This week we tested the Pioneer XDP-100, a digital audio player whose technical specifications suggest a highly satisfying and convenient musical experience. Created by Pioneer, the XDP-100 competes with Astell&Kern DAPs and announces that it will offer more for our ears while displaying a (much) lower price tag.
The Pioneer XDP-100 is made up of a monobloc anthracite brushed aluminium casing and a 4.7” touch screen in 16:9 format (1280 x 720 pixels). At the heart of the device is an ESS Tech Sabre 9018K2M DAC. Unlike its competitors, the XDP-100 does not pair its DAC with a Texas Instruments headphone amplifier but with an ESS Tech preamp, the 9601K. The operating system of the Pioneer XDP-100 is an AOSP version of Android 5.1 with multiple additional audio settings and a preinstalled version of Google Play Store.
To bring life to Google’s OS, Pioneer chose a quad-core Snapdragon 801 SoC with Adreno 330 GPU for the graphics. The Pioneer XDP-100 features 2 Gb of RAM and 32 Gb of internal storage. Two microSD ports are also available, which allows the user to add 400 Gb of additional data storage currently and even more when microSD cards with more storage capacity become available on the market. In addition, the micro-USB port is OTG compatible and flash drives can therefore be read. Wireless connection is ensured by a WiFi 802.11n controler and an apt-X compatible Bluetooth 4.0 chip.
Pioneer XDP-100: the benefits of Android
If Astell&Kern chose to limit some functions of the Android OS used for its portable players, Pioneer decided to do just the opposite. In other words, the Pioneer XDP-100 is perfectly compatible with Google Play Store and allows the user to install any Android app – Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Music, Plex, BSPlayer, VLC, Youtube, etc. and it works great! The IPS type 4.7” screen offers excellent contrast and watching films and TV shows is perfectly possible with the Pioneer XDP-100. It is also possible to use it to play as the Qualcomm SoC is powerful enough to allow this type of use.
Pioneer XDP-100: what type of files can be read?
Absolutely all of them. With the Pioneer Music app, most lossy and lossless formats can be read, up to 32 bits and 384 kHz as well as DSD. With about 20 Gb of internal memory, the Pioneer XDP-100 can hold a few thousand audio files and all there is to do is connect the player to a computer, then copy and paste the files you want to add. For Mac OS, it is necessary to install Android File Transfer (free). When the Pioneer XDP-100 is fitted with one or two micro-SD cards, they can be accessed, like the internal memory, from a computer.
Pioneer XDP-100: is playback from a DLNA server possible?
Not by default, but all there is to do is install a playback app such as BubbleUPnP, for example, to access the music libraries shared on a local network (NAS, residential gateway device, computers, etc.). For our listening session, we installed Plex for Android in order to access our personal Plex server. By installing BSPlayer, it is also possible to share files via the Samba protocol.
Pioneer XDP-100: possible audio adjustments
The audio settings can be accessed via the Pioneer Music app or the Android audio settings. This is good news, as it means that it is not required to use the Pioneer app to fully take advantage of the ESS Sabre 9018K2M DAC. The settings are very complete and include oversampling (at 96 kHz or 192 kHz), real time DSD transcoding, jitter reduction (lock range adjustment), choice of digital low-pass filter (steep, slow, high-pitch), loudness, 11 bands graphic equalizer. Enough settings to adjust the sound the way you like it.
Pioneer XDP-100: listening conditions
We listened to the XDP-100 DAP with our faithful set of Sennheiser PX100 headphones (we replace the earcup foam regularly) and we also used the Pioneer SE-MHR5 supra-aural headphones. In addition to the FLAC and DSD files stored in the internal memory of the XDP-100, we listened to a few albums streamed from the DLNA server of our Raspberry Pi2 (Volumio) as well as from a Plex server. We used different playback applications in addition to the Pioneer default app.
Note that the gain control is on the maximum setting by default, which is adapted to low sensitivity headphones (< 95 dB/mW), but not to earbuds and headband headphones (< 32 Ohms / > 100 dB / mW). Adjusting the gain to the lowest setting totally changes the listening experience, in a positive way.
Voici la liste des albums écoutés pendant ce test : INXS – Kick (FLAC 24/44), Charles Bradley – No time for dreaming (FLAC 16/44), Queen – A Night at the Opera (FLAC, 16/44), Alan Parson Project – Eye in the Sky (FLAC, 24/96), Muddy Waters, My home is in the Delta (FLAC 24/192), Depeche Mode – The Singles 81-85 (FLAC 16/44), Maria Callas – Norma (FLAC 24/96), London Grammar – If You Wait (FLAC 24/48), Nina Simone – Little Blue Girl (FLAC 24/96), Sia – 1000 forms of Fear (FLAC 16/44), NTM – Live du monde de demain à Pose ton gun (FLAC 16/44), Adele – 21 (FLAC 16/44), Tame Impala – Currents (FLAC 16/44), Janis Joplin – Pearl (FLAC 16/44), Sade – Best of Sade (FLAC 16/44), James Brown – 20 All Time Greatest hits (FLAC 24/96).
Pioneer XDP-100: listening impressions
Give Bohemian Rhapsody to the Pioneer XDP-100, not the simplest song in Queen’s repertoire, and the player delivers an astonishing result. Rarely, if not ever, have we heard the track like this. The sound is layered with outstanding clarity without sacrificing the subtleties and richness of the sound. The restitution of macro-dynamics is exceptional. The listener is in constant bewilderment from the resonance of the bass drum in the infra-bass to the long lasting piano notes. Listen to the Norma opera sang by Maria Callas on the Pioneer XDP-100 and prepare for a downpour of emotions as a result of the incredible restitution of dynamics during the singer’s lyrical take off. The same applies to My Home is in the Delta by Muddy Waters. The ESS Sabre headphones amplifier is exemplary in its stability. Hats off!
Lows: very swift, never massive and always detailed at both low and high volume. The XDP-100 is spot-on, remarkable. The extinction of notes is breathtaking. So many superlatives can be used to describe this range. It sometimes feel like a perfectly tuned subwoofer was added to the headphones and that it is only heard when needed.
Mids: it is the main strength of the ESS Sabre 9018K2M DAC. The energy is distributed evenly between low-mediums and mediums. Guitar strings are clear without ever being too bright.
Highs: Smooth, delicate and discreet. Pioneer clearly decided not to flatter the ear by inflating the 10 kHz range. Yet, the listening experience is neither dry nor boring. There is just enough brightness for a smooth listening experience.
Pioneer XDP-100: what we liked
- The sound, both lively and soft
- The exceptional amount of details and their flawless layout
- The coherence and musicality at high volume
- The audio decoding adjustments
- Android 5.1 with Play Store
- The double microSD port and the compatibility with OTG flash drives
- The USB OTG audio output to possibly connect an external DAC
- The very good IPS screen
- The manufacturing quality
- The small volume potentiometer
- The battery which offers a whole day of musical playback
Pioneer XDP-100: what we would have liked
- A Pioneer Music app which doesn’t offer 44.44 kHz but 44.1 kHz… Nevertheless, the Play Store is full of quality apps which can access the advanced settings of the DAC.
Pioneer XDP-100: conclusion
Despite a few minor flaws in the Pioneer Music app, the Pioneer XDP-100 DAP will scare more than one competitor. Its musicality is breathtaking. In our opinion, it delivers better results than many more expensive players and is even superior to the FiiO X7 and its 8 channel ESS Sabre DAC. The fact that Google Store can be accessed via the device opens limitless possibilities, including audio and video streaming apps, music playback, games, etc. We simply loved it.
Questions regarding this portable player can be asked in the comment section below.
Pioneer SE-MHR5: introduction and listening impressions
Is it a new trend we are currently witnessing? The Pioneer SE-MHR5 headphones benefit from a bass-reflex enclosure designed to reinforce the level of low frequencies while protecting the transducers from excessive membrane excursions. Despite the bass-reflex ports on each earpiece, the sound insulation is excellent due to the use of two enclosures per earcup. The 40 mm transducers offer a pleasant listening experience but lack energy. As a professional of hi-fi products, Pioneer has avoided the mistake of forging a fake sound depth by intentionally altering the frequency response in the medium and high range. Long listening sessions are therefore possible with these headphones which stand out due to a solid, but not overwhelming, bass range. This set of headphones is comfortable to wear and does not put excessive pressure on the ears. The detachable cable is fitted with 3.5 mm mini-jack connectors. The impedance and sensitivity of the Pioneer SE-MHR5 make these headphones an ideal partner for a smartphone, tablet or for the Pioneer XDP-100 DAP, although the latter deserves a better set of headphones.
This post is also available in: French